Dave Swarbrick

Dave Swarbrick died on 3rd June 2016.

Dave Swarbrick first came to prominence with the Ian Campbell Folk Group in the mid 1960's. In 1966 he formed a duo with Martin Carthy and they became highly respected in English folk music. Around 1968-9 he appeared as a guest performer on the early Fairport Convention album Unhalfbricking, and soon after became a full member of the band.

He is known mainly as a fiddler, and this is the foundation of his music, but his ability goes much further. Perhaps his real genius is to play tastefully and to magically enhance any music he participates in. In Fairport Convention he became the main vocalist in the 70's, having a vocal timbre of traditional English male folk singers, perhaps not fashionable at the time, but his singing has excellent intonation and is like a vocal version of his playing. He also plays mandolin exceptionally well and this is more evident on his solo albums than in Fairport Convention.

He has also proved to be a very able songwriter both on his own and in partnership with others. Many of his compositions seem to have the quality of traditional songs which have stood the test of time, and could easily be mistaken for such. With Richard Thompson he co-wrote Fairport classics Crazy Man Michael and Walk Awhile, also the lesser known but excellent Sloth. He also wrote The Wizard of the Worldly Game with Simon Nichol, White Dress with Ralph McTell, Night-time Girl with Dave Pegg, and with sole credits The Last Waltz on Bonny Bunch of Roses, a great sing-along song which sounds traditional.

Some solo albums:

Rags Reels and Airs

Rags Reels and Airs of 1967 is the first album with Dave Swarbrick named as the principal performer. This was by Dave Swarbrick with Martin Carthy and Diz Disley. Other albums followed with Martin Carthy, which seemed to name Martin Carthy as the principal performer.

Rags Reels and Airs is regarded as something of a rare classic and was available only on vinyl and as a collectors item until 1999 when it was released on C.D.

Tracks on this CD: 1. Spanish Ladies Medley, 2. Hens March to the Middens, 3. Bottom of the Punchbowl / The Swallow Tail / Marquis of Tullybardine, 4. Barney Brallaghan / The New Widow Well Married / Paddy Be Aisy, 5. Dill Pickles Ray, 6. Gurty's Frolics, 7. Blackbird, 8. Cockoo's Nest, 9. Lietrum Fancy Medley, 10. Porcupine Rag, 11. Villafjord / Fourposter Bed, 12. Staten Island / Jimmy Allen, 13. Salamanca Medley, 14. Teetotallers Medley, 15. Lord Mayo, 16. Kid on the Mountain, 17. Jolly Tinker / Rags and Tatters, 18. Father Kelly / Skopje / Sligo Maid.

Swarbrick, 1976, was the first solo album published under his name alone. It consists entirely of traditional instrumental music, and is mostly acoustic, but with some electric bass. The tracks are diverse and seem to have been recorded at a number of recording sessions, each having a different set of supporting musicians. There is some pure solo violin, some with Beryl Marriott on piano, some with Martin Carthy playing guitar, and some with Fairport Convention members Simon Nichol on acoustic guitar, and Dave Pegg on bass. There is a tune with what sounds like a harp, and there is one tune played in a typical Irish session style with various other musicians where the main melody is from an accordion.

Swarbrick 2, 1977, follows the same formula as the first, also being entirely traditional instrumental music, and with largely the same sets of musicians. There are more of the session type tunes, and Swarbrick's unaccompanied tunes are both more numerous and better, being satisfying without needing the accompanyment often needed for a solo melody instrument. The album seems to have been produced, at least partly, from the same recording sessions as the first.

Swarbrick and Swarbrick 2 have been released together on a single C.D.

Tracks on this CD: (From Swarbrick:) 1. Heilanman / Drowsy Maggie, 2. Carthy's March, 3. The White Cockade / Doc Boyd's Jig / Durham Rangers, 4. My Singing Bird, 5. The Nightingale, 6. Once I Loved a Maiden Fair, 7. Byker Hill, 8. Ace and Deuce of Pipering, 9. Hole in the Wall, 10. Ben Dorian, 11. Hullichans / Chorus Jig, 12. 79th Farewell to Gibraltar, 13. Arthur McBride/Snug in the Blanket,
(From Swarbrick 2:) 14. Athole Highlanders, 15. Shannon Bells / Fairy Dance / Miss McLeod's Reel, 16. King of the Fairies, 17. Chief O'Neill's Favourite / Newcastle Hornpipe, 18. Sheebeg and Sheemore, 19. Rocky Road to Dublin / Sir Phillip McHugh, 20. Planxty Morgan Mawgan, 21. Swallows Tail / Rakes of Kildare / Blackthorn Stick, 22. Sheagh of Rye / The Friar's Breeches, 23. Derwentwater's Farewell / The Noble Squire Dacre, 24. Teribus / Farewell to Aberdeen, 25. Bonaparte's Retreat, 26. Coulin

There seems to have been a transformation in Dave Swarbrick's playing between 1977 and 1978. The above solo albums were fairly straightforward traditional instrumental music, as was his instrumental contribution to the 1977 Fairport Convention album The Bonny Bunch of Roses. However in only the following year, 1978, the Fairport album Tipplers Tales showed a totally different style of violin playing. It cannot be that he suddenly found a whole new virtuosity in a few months, it must be that he took the decision to include this aspect of his talent, previously hidden, in his recorded works. There is much more subtlety, more sophistication and more expressiveness. The music includes slow and quiet passages to contrast with the louder faster parts, and is altogether more dramatic. This change of style is evident in the next two solo albums.

Smiddyburn, 1981, was more sophisticated than the earlier solo albums, and had contributions from other Fairport Convention members, Simon Nichol, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, early member Richard Thompson, and others. Some of the tracks sound as if they could be Fairport Convention intrumentals, but with a difference. It's more refined and less rocky, but not lacking a lively fiddle playing. Beryl Marriott's piano playing is much more tasteful and elaborate than the earlier solo albums. Smiddyburn consists entirely of traditional instrumentals except for one song It Suits Me Well, which was written by Sandy Denny, and was recorded and released during her solo career around 10 years previously. Swarbrick's version contains a good balance between singing and violin playing, and although no-one can match Sandy Denny's singing, the fiddling on Swarbrick's version lifts the song to a higher level.

Flittin, 1981 has the same musicians as Smiddyburn, and although packaged on the same CD it is different from its predecessor in that it shows more of the gentle sophisticated aspect of the music. It begins with a quiet tasteful violin solo which suddenly gets a boost from a typical powerful Fairport Convention style backing. Most impressive. This album is nominally entirely traditional instrumental folk music, but takes it to a new level of sophistication. In places it resembles classical music and breaks down the artificial distinction between the two.

Smiddyburn and Flittin have also been released together on a single C.D. and are excellent value.

Tracks on this CD: (From Smiddyburn:) 1. a. Wat ye wha I met the streen, b. Ribbons of the redheaded girl, c. Ril gan ainm, 2. a. Sir Charles Coote, b. Smiths, 3. a. I have a wife of my own, b. Lady Mary Haye's scotch measure, 4. a. Wishing, b. Victor's return, c. Gravel walk, 5. When the battle is over, 6. a. Sword dance, b. The Young black crow, 7. a. Sean O'Dwyer of the glen, b. The Hag with the money, c. Sleepy Maggie, 8. It suits me well.
(From Flittin:) 9. a. Bride's march, b. Keelmans pertition, c. Show me the way to Sallingford, d. Sword dance, 10. a. Parthenia, b. Pittengardener's rant, c. The Floggin', 11. a. Grey daylight, b. The Hawk, c. The Ten pound fiddle, 12. a. Jamaica, b. With all my heart, 13. a. Nathaniel Gow's lament on the occasion of the death of his brother, b. Rory of the hills, 14. The Rakes of Sollohad, 15. a. Dr Isaacs Maggot, b. Cupids garden, 16. Boadicea

English Fiddler

This album, English Fiddler released in 2003 consists entirely of Swarbrick's compositions over the years and includes contributions from many of the musicians he has been associated with including Martin Carthy and some past members of Fairport Convention. It is offered at a budget price on the Naxos label.


Fairport Convention Their page on this site with further links.

Dave Swarbrick The Official web site.

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